St. Joseph Media is adding a Toronto Life-branded real estate product called “The Hunt” to its suite of email newsletters, and also updating some of its existing products.
David Topping, a former editor turned digital strategy and product manager for St. Joseph, said email newsletters continued to grow in popularity as publishers experiment with alternate means of attracting and monetizing audiences.
“In the same way that a year ago everyone and their grandmother had a podcast, now everyone has an email newsletter,” he said. “They’re a way to reach people beyond publishing content on your website, and there is an audience of people of who prefer to get stuff this way.”
The Hunt is a Toronto Life-branded product that is distributed every Friday, providing an overview of Toronto’s red-hot real estate market and reflecting continued reader interest in what Topping called “real estate porn” – such as pictures of a bank executive’s multi-million dollar mansion.
It is aimed at reinforcing and expanding the Toronto Life brand (the city magazine has a combined 1.1 million print and digital readers, according to the most recent readership report from Vividata) but will also help shape the publication’s editorial direction, said Topping.
Toronto Life has approximately 51,000 subscribers to its six e-newsletters, though Topping said it eliminated many inactive subscribers in March. “We’d much rather have a growing engaged base of users than a stagnant base of users,” he explained.
He said the Toronto Life homepage was becoming “less important than it’s ever been” as people increasingly discover its content via the likes of social media and Google. The latter, he said, is largely unheralded in terms of its power in driving people to a publisher’s website.
“We have more traffic from Google than we have from Facebook, and we have a very healthy amount of traffic from Facebook,” he said. “We want to meet people where they are; we don’t want to have to force people to go to our homepage to find out what we’re doing.”
The launch of “The Hunt” comes roughly one year after St. Joseph launched its weekday newsletter Twelve Thirty Six. With headlines like “Why does Toronto’s east end hate everything?” and gossipy stories about the goings-on in Canadian media, the smartly curated daily newsletter has become ritual for an increasing number of people.
Topping attributed much of the newsletter’s success to its editor, former Eye Weekly correspondent and Canada.com news editor Marc Weisblott. “I don’t know how he is as in the loop on everything as he is,” said Topping. “It’s as though he’s run by four smaller people who are operating machines inside him.”
While acknowledging there are no guarantees about Twelve Thirty Six’s longevity in an environment of fickle consumers, Weisblott said St. Joseph was being proactive in its attempts to attract readers.
“We were able to launch this product with the understanding that it wasn’t about clicking our heels wishing for a magic click,” he said. “Rather, it’s about establishing a long-term direct relationship with readers, including the kind who yell at me on Twitter if a glitch finds their newsletter arriving a minute late.”
While Twelve Thirty Six’s stories are largely sourced from other news outlets (including Marketing), Topping said St. Joseph was not concerned about readers linking to rival media outlets.
“The industry has reached a level of confidence that we’re not afraid to link to our competitors,” he said. “It’s our job to be the best. If we’re the people who show or tell [readers] the best stuff, they’ll keep coming back to us – even if intermittently we acknowledge the existence of our competitors.”
Topping described Twelve Thirty Six as an experiment in utilizing a lean startup approach to launching a new editorial product, using data to refine the product on the fly.
“Obviously there has to be an editorial and business vision behind what you’re doing, but now more than ever you can use data to inform those decisions in a way that is instructive and means you’re not in the position print publishers were in ages ago – when they had to rely on focus groups or their best guess as to what was succeeding in attracting readers.”
Twelve Thirty Six boasts approximately 5,400 subscribers, with a daily open rate of between 50-60% and as many as 24,000 total opens in a typical week (the newsletter is often forwarded by its subscriber base). Topping said the open rate was more indicative of the publication’s resonance than its subscription numbers.
“If you want to [advertise] in a newsletter that has 25,000 subscribers but a 10% open rate, why would you bother when you could advertise in a 10,000-subscriber newsletter with a 50% open rate?”
St. Joseph sells a single ad in Twelve Thirty Six for $300 per day, with clients including Toronto’s Carbon Bar (a charter advertiser), Toronto-based publisher Dundurn Press and Alison Azer, a private citizen publicizing a petition urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to pressure the Iran government to look into the abduction of her four children by her ex-husband.
“It’s not someone who you think of as a conventional advertiser, but given the audience [for Twelve Thirty Six] it was a really smart call,” said Topping, who said the newsletter reached many influential people. “Clients that have a particular audience in mind for who they want to reach are coming to us.”
Topping said St. Joseph had only recently turned its focus to advertisers on Twelve Thirty Six after spending the past year using audience data to refine the product.
“There is a strong editorial vision about what we are as a publication, but the kind of work I’m doing, which is getting information about what people respond to and doing more like it, adds another layer,” said Topping. “It’s never been so easy or so inexpensive.
“We are in the position of being able to move very quickly in the direction people want and to keep giving them more.”